But damn, it had felt good! He'd felt so exultant seeing the shock on Moose's face. He had dealt a verbal blow that obviously had struck deep in Moose's heart in the same way all the taunting and teasing had hurt him.
So why did he now feel... flat? What started as a heady, fizzy feeling of success now tasted more like old, warm champagne. What was the phrase from Hamlet '…stale, flat and unprofitable'? That was how it really felt. Mitch sat down on a handy folding chair next to an empty table and thought for a bit. It had been forty years, and that was a long time to nurse a hurt. On the other had, it HAD hurt... a lot; and for Moose to remember it and to actually try to make up for it meant that Moose himself had been thinking about it as long as he had. Perhaps Moose really was sorry. Maybe he'd been wrong to hang on to the hurt and the hate for that long.
As Mitch gazed around the slowly filling gym, a familiar little voice in his head piped up. "Why should I have to be a nice guy about it? After all, I was the one who was wronged. I was the one who was excluded and tormented over something I had no control over, right? Damn straight!" Mitch pushed that voice back down deep, where it had been for much of his adult life. What the voice said might have some truth to it but the voice was also that of a wounded young man, not a mature one. It was a different voice that spoke to him of how he'd made Moose suffer just now. That voice understood compassion and was the one that made him feel like he had to go out there and talk to Moose to make him feel better.
"Why?" The first voice asked. "Why do I feel bad for doing that? I had every right to do that."
"Perhaps it was that look in the eyes of the other man, the look that said, 'You've hurt someone I love,'" the second voice said. "Perhaps it was because Moose has been torturing himself all these years and may have been coming to these stupid reunions all along to apologize to you. Perhaps it's because Moose really is a nice guy, after all," the second voice finished simply.
Mitch sat there and finally said to himself, "You're a jerk, Mitch. Now go fix it."
Mitch walked outside into the cool evening and looked around. People were still arriving so he wove in and out through the clumps of people standing around talking while they waited to check in. There, about 100 yards away on a bench sat the bearded, bald, handsome bear of a man, Moose; and his equally gorgeous buddy. They were talking intently and Mitch took the opportunity to skirt around them so they wouldn't see his approach until he was close enough to speak without shouting. As he got within distance to hear what they were talking about, he coughed politely to announce his presence. The two looked silently up at Mitch.
Moose was a little red-eyed, but that was all. The red-gold bearded man regarded Mitch as if waiting to respond to a further attack. There was an awkward silence and Mitch was about to speak when Moose said, "Look, Mitch, I guess I deserved that. It's just I've been coming to these things because I'd hoped I would see you so that I could apologize. I guess maybe I thought it might go better than it did. I'd fantasized that we'd smooth it over and have a good chuckle about the names. I'd hoped you'd say, 'Ah, forget about it, that was ages ago'. I'm sorry; I guess it still hurts you a lot."
Mitch spoke up, "I'm sorry too. We're both grown men but I acted like a jerk. I'm sorry if what I said hurt you." It was lame, he knew; but then he never had planned an apology of his own. He never thought he'd need one.
"Well, what you said in there was nothing next to the torture I put you through. I saddled you with those names and there's really no excuse for it, but there is an explanation, if you'll hear it." Moose looked over at the man sitting next to him and took his hand lovingly in his own, then looked back at Mitch. Mitch noticed that the men both wore simple gold rings with identical geometric designs.
"See, Mitch, I'm gay. I knew I was gay back then, too; and well, I was a little bit attracted to you back then, and I hated myself for it. I was young and confused. I was... I was angry and afraid and paranoid that someone might find out. I was scared of what my father might do to me if he found out. I guess I directed some of that anger toward you."
All this had tumbled out. Moose paused and took a breath. "It took me years to understand that about myself and when I finally did, I wanted to tell you and couldn't. I couldn't face the possible ridicule I might get from you for admitting that I was attracted to all that hair you had on you. I finally screwed up the courage to tell you about twenty years ago; about the same time I came out of the closet..." Moose looked into the eyes of the short man who had moved closer to Moose while he was talking. The man had put an arm around him in an almost protective way. Moose looked back at Mitch and continued. "After my divorce, I met Rusty here, and we started living together. Of course, my ex took my kids and made sure I didn't see them. I couldn't even get visitation rights because back then they wouldn't allow that for gay fathers. By the time I could see them, their mother had poisoned them against me. I sent gifts on their birthdays and Christmas and at first, they were just returned. Then they were returned all torn up. I confronted my ex with it and she said the kids had destroyed them because they didn't want anything from me. I didn't know if it was true, but it still hurt. I took the hint and stopped having any contact with them. What you said about raising my kids really hit me hard because I wasn't allowed to raise them. I guess I deserved it. What goes around comes around, right?"
"Yes," Mitch said, "and it's gone around enough; too far in fact. It should have stopped with me." Mitch moved to the other side of Moose and sat down. "If I had known; if I had kept my mouth shut long enough to let you continue, I guess I might have found that out and not said those things. I wish I could take them back."
Moose blinked and smiled. He pulled Mitch into a hug and growled out, "It's OK, it's forgotten. I'm just sorry that I didn't have the chance to know you better forty years ago. If I could have gotten over my self-loathing, I might have tried to be your friend instead of your tormentor. How about we try now?"
Moose released Mitch from the hug and Rusty spoke for the first time.
"And to think that only took forty years to resolve this; amazing." Rusty smiled, first at his lover, then at Mitch. "You know, he's been going on about you for as long as I've known him and to tell you the truth, I was a bit jealous for the first ten years or so; but I've come to accept that he's not holding a torch. He's just a nice guy who's wanted to set things right all these years," Rusty's eyes were shiny as he petted the back of Moose's head.
"Well, shall we go back in, grab some punch and catch up with everything over dinner? I hear the menu for tonight is rubber chicken surprise or pork loin a la hockey puck, your choice. Oh, yes, and over-cooked vegetables with rutabaga sauce," Rusty said merrily in a light tenor.
"Sounds good to me, even if its roast hyena... I'm starved." Moose said.
The three got up from the bench and headed toward the gymnasium.
Two men stood deep in the shadows nearby, unseen and upwind of the trio. An iron-gray bearded man who looked to be about forty-five or so dressed in black boots, blue jeans, white oxford shirt and gray wool suit coat with no tie watched them leave. One could tell by how he wore the shirt and coat that this was as 'dressed up' as he ever got.
The man smiled to himself and said quietly to his companion, "He finally made it to one of these things after all these years and it looks like he's made new friends. I guess my persistence paid off."
The other man standing by was as tall as his companion, looked to be about the same age, but with a blond gray beard. He was a bit chubby but it was obvious he was strongly built under his layers of padding... the kind of man who could add that weight to his already strong muscular punch for devastating effect in the boxing ring. He wore a worn black leather jacket that was a little tight on him, new dark blue jeans and worn black boots. He puffed on the last three inches of a fat cigar, the reason for standing upwind as they watched the others. The whole effect made him look powerful, imposing... and a little dangerous.
He growled around the cigar in a gravelly voice to the iron-gray bearded man, "You better get on in there, son. You've waited forty years for this, I'm sure he'll remember you. He was a good kid with a lot of inner strength. If he hadn't have been, he would have crumbled and never done anything with his life."
The gray bearded man laughed, "Yeah, he's a tough one, even though he doesn't know it. I'll see you up in Tahoe in a couple of weeks, should be good skiing by then."
There was some sort of announcement calling the attendees to the gym.
"I'll see you then." The leather-clad man said. Removing the cigar from his lips with thick hairy fingers, he pulled his companion to him and gave him a kiss full of smoke and tongue. "Have fun, boy," he said as he broke the kiss and replaced the cigar.
The blond gray man began to lumber away but stopped suddenly, turned to his companion who was watching him leave and without warning and with what seemed to be uncharacteristic refinement for a man so large and clumsy looking, began to waltz as if holding a phantom partner to a tune apparently only he could hear. His movements were precise, his body carriage erect and formal, the smile on his brutishly handsome bearded face distant, pleasant, sincere and serene as if he were lost in memory. His steps were of seemingly unnatural grace as he puffed away on his cigar. He stopped, winked and bowed to the gray bearded man who was laughing.
The gray blond man was showing off; a whim he indulged in on rare occasion. They waved goodbye to each other, and the man in the gray wool suit jacket turned to go to the gym.
The other puffed on his cigar and walked to the parking lot, his next few steps light, poised, catlike and as if switching mental gears, he returned to his lumbering, functional gait.
"So many memories this place brings back," He said softly as he walked away. "...so many memories.”